BackgroundIn 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the vision of ‘Europe whole and free’ dominated. Thirty years later, the sense of erosion of democratic values in Europe is very palpable. From Brexit to the rise of nationalist and populist parties and leaders, everything points to disappointment with democracy. Some of the disenchantment is rooted in reality, i.e. stagnating economic development, divisions over immigration, and the loss of faith in the ability of traditional politics to solve people’s problems. But some of it is rooted in misconceptions about the role and power of citizenry to solve social issues. We believe that a better understanding of citizenship and civic participation and their promotion are important steps that can restore faith in democracy.
The ideaEurope as a Community of Citizens is a two-component program that seeks to support ideas, individuals and organizations based or working in communities outside major cities. The program aims to develop the capacities and skills of these individuals / organizations to help them establish themselves as active participants in public life.
What are the two strands of the program?
Building an ecosystem for the development of civic education in Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and HungaryIn Bulgaria, we plan to identify between 20 and 40 active citizens with an interest in civic education, based or working in small towns and villages, and with them go through a capacity and capability-building program. With the completion of this development program, with our help, each of these active citizens will receive support (including financial support) for the implementation of their own local civic education project. To help participants, as well as all citizens involved in civic education, we will also create an online platform for civic education resources in Bulgarian. Finally, we will develop a pilot index on civic health in Bulgaria. In Poland, Romania and Hungary, we also plan to develop the capacities of local organizations working with civic education tools. We plan to work with three partner organizations in each country. Together with them, we will develop capacity development programs for about five local organizations in each of these countries. These 15 organizations in all 3 countries must carry democratic values and work with civic education tools. In turn, the five organizations in each country will receive financial support to develop a project aimed at enhancing civic cohesion at the local level.
Idea incubator for successfully tested good practices on a local levelThe second strand of the program seeks to support already existing, successful 24 local projects, divided into two groups of 12, which strengthen civic cohesion at the local level. The program mainly supports projects already implemented / tested in small towns and addressing current problems without necessarily excluding large cities. This strand of the ‘Civic Europe’ program will focus on applicants from Central, Eastern and Southern Europe. Priority will be given to projects that are building / have built sustainable partnerships at the local level.
Why are we focusing on the local level?The logic of the project builds on the experience of the partners in the program – the Sofia Platform Foundation and MitOst e.V., as well as the 2018 Sofia Platform Foundation study, which maps local civic education initiatives in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic and Austria. The results of the study show that:
- in the three countries covered by it, most regions outside capitals and large urban centers are characterized by low civic cohesion. In other words, civil society organizations are small in number and small in size, with insufficient funding and limited organizational skills; places where citizens can gather are very limited, etc.;
- most of these, however, few civic organizations often work as service providers. Those who work with civic education tools are even smaller and completely absent in some regions;
- that is why the majority of citizens outside the big cities are characterized by the so-called. low civic literacy – they lack the necessary knowledge, skills and abilities to be active citizens in the local community;
- the local level is often overlooked, although it has great potential to contribute to the overall return of citizens’ confidence in democracy. It is at this level that the positive influence of civic participation to solve community problems is strongly manifested.